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Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince Hardcover – April 11, 2017
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“When it comes to funk and words, lyrics and language, there couldn’t be a better pairing than Ben Greenman and Prince. From my experience with both of them, this is the perfect match, like ham hocks and cornflakes.”
?"?Prince’s genius is on full display here as Greenman remarks on his prolific music virtuosity, putting out an album once a year, and his obsessive dedication to saving every little scrap of his writing and recording to use again. Greenman’s brilliant book celebrates a musician who crammed substance into every corner of his music.?"?
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for Ben Greenman
“Greenman understands the power of music all too well.” ―Newsday
"Incapable of writing anything dry or familiar or expected. He is one of the most versatile, consistently surprising writers at work today.” ―Dave Eggers
“Brilliant and wry” ―Karen Russell
“Greenman rarely plays a wrong chord.” ―New York Times
“He writes sentences so sharp they hurt.” ―Jess Walter
“What a fine and unique writer Ben Greenman is. I love his sentences, his precision. I feel like he’s absorbed and digested so much great literature, distilling it all to create his own fantastic universe of stories and ideas.” –Jonathan Ames
“Seriously brilliant and lyrical” ―Simon Van Booy
"Ben Greenman's mind contains, among other things, a literary critic, a cultural commentator, a cowboy, a satirist, a scientist, a surrealist, a nut, a genius, a child prodigy, and a poet." -Susan Minot
“Like Bruno Schulz, George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, and no one else I can think of, Greenman has the power to be whimsical without resorting to whimsy.” ―Darin Strauss
“Light-stepping and hard-hitting Greenman gets it right” ― Walter Mosley
About the Author
Ben Greenman is a New York Times bestselling author and New Yorker contributor who has written both fiction and nonfiction. His novels and short-story collections include The Slippage and Superbad, he was Questlove's collaborator on Mo’ Meta Blues and Something to Food About, and he has written memoirs with George Clinton and Brian Wilson. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, McSweeney's, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere.
Top customer reviews
Like those earlier books, Dig If You Will attempts to present an overarching analysis of Prince’s body of work, the bulk of which occurs in a middle section of thematically-grouped chapters: “Sex,” “Self,” “Others,” “Virtue and Sin,” “Race and Politics.” But while Touré organized his analysis as a set of extended, interlinked essays–making it, for me, the most successful entry in this “genre” of Prince books–Greenman can’t seem to settle on an argument; he glosses over the surface of these major themes in Prince’s work, moving on to the next subject just when things are starting to get good. Perhaps, as Questlove suggests in the foreword (between this and Duane Tudahl’s recently-announced Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions, Quest has had a busy year of foreword-writing), Dig If You Will works best as a kind of frame, laying the groundwork for deeper dives in the future. But if you’re the kind of hardcore fan who would purchase an extended, quasi-scholarly analysis of Prince’s music, it’s sort of questionable that you would need such a frame in the first place.
This is not to say that Dig If You Will isn’t an enjoyable read–it clearly is. Greenman’s writerly credentials are evident: he’s a novelist, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, and has co-authored books with Questlove, Brian Wilson, and George Clinton. He is, I have little doubt, smarter than I am (he certainly knows more about the oeuvre of William Blake than I do). At its best, his book puts aspects of Prince’s music into fresh perspective. His chapter on the “Slave” era is perhaps the clearest explication I’ve read of that thorny period; and the section on Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s concept of “flow” offers a fascinating and plausible theory for both Prince’s near-supernatural focus and (implicitly) the coping strategies that led to his death. But Prince fans, as Greenman noted in a recent New Yorker essay, can be unforgiving; and, while dwelling on minor factual errors can be nitpicky, I suspect that there are a few such errors that the community will find unforgivable. Particularly unfortunate, in light of Mayte’s book, is the misidentification of Prince’s deceased son Amiir by the tabloid-proliferated moniker “Boy Gregory”: an avoidable mistake made actively tasteless by the accompanying misreading of the lyrics for “Anna Stesia.”
In the aforementioned New Yorker essay, Greenman described Dig If You Will as both a “passion project” and an “opportunistic” one. Both of these descriptors are accurate. Greenman’s passion for and knowledge of Prince are obvious, and some of the most compelling passages are when he’s writing from a fan’s position: recalling his teenage record-shopping experiences in the 1980s, or providing a discography annotated with brief writeups on his favorite tracks, or describing a writing break in which he watches a flock of birds in the sky and waits for them to form, True Detective-like, into the artist’s “Love Symbol.” But the book’s “opportunism” makes it difficult to recommend: it feels rushed and padded, like it could have used a little more time in the oven or a more demanding editor, but was nevertheless pushed out the door to make that all-important mid-April deadline.
For that reason, it’s for the best that the next major Prince book (Tudahl’s) isn’t scheduled for release until November. Greenman, like many of us, clearly had something to work out in the wake of Prince’s death, and I’m glad he did what he had to do; his contributions are appreciated and well worth checking out, especially in this week of sad memories and ghoulish speculations. But at this point, we need polished, rigorous books more than we need timely ones. There isn’t as much money in the former for the publishing industry, of course, but there’s a lot more potential benefit for Prince’s legacy.
Most recent customer reviews
Great descriptions of the songs. Interesting influences and musical directions.